China’s first revolution? The birth of the total state (4th-3rd centuries BCE) - Prof. Yuri Pines

China’s first revolution? The birth of the total state (4th-3rd centuries BCE)

Prof. Yuri Pines
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
10/11/2021 - WED 16:30- Room 5138


The Warring States period (453-221 BCE) was the age of dramatic changes in China’s economic, social, political, and intellectual history. Among manifold “revolutions” of that age the most consequential one was the emergence of the new type of a state—a centralized bureaucratic polity designed to maximize extraction of material and human resources from the subject population. Its emergence was paralleled by profound reconceptualization of the state-society relations. The apex of the new assertiveness were Shang Yang’s 商鞅 (d. 338 BCE) reforms in the state of Qin 秦, in particular, creation of the new system of the ranks of merit. This system arguably affected one of the most radical social overhauls in human history. By utilizing insights from the Book of Lord Shang and from the newly discovered Qin administrative documents, I want to demonstrate the revolutionary nature of these reforms and their ideological underpinning. I shall also try to demonstrate that as many revolutions, the one affected by Shang Yang went too far, requiring eventual retreat from an omni-powerful state to a more viable “hybrid” model.

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